Just about anyone—
regardless of his or her involvement with or knowledge of cancer or medicine—can immediately identify the pink ribbon as the symbol of breast cancer awareness. But most people don't know how it all started or why there is so much controversy surrounding a pink ribbon.
The pink ribbon made its first appearance in 1991 at a Susan G. Komen Foundation race in New York City for breast cancer survivors. The very next year, the pink ribbon was adopted as the official symbol of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (and The New York Times
even proclaimed 1992 as "The Year of the Ribbon"). The idea of the ribbon derived from the red ribbon used for AIDS awareness. Pink was used because in Western countries it is considered a feminine color and evokes the woman's traditional gender role. The pink ribbon instantly became a symbol of hope and solidarity amongst women, and, since the early 90s, individuals, groups, and companies have promoted breast cancer awareness during the month of October. Today, everyone from cosmetic company Estee Lauder to the NFL promote Breast Cancer Awareness Month by wearing pink or promoting limited edition pink items
If October is a month to promote hope amongst those affected by breast cancer, why would people take issue with the cause? For one, many are upset that breast cancer "steals" the spotlight from the numerous other forms of cancer that are either just as common, like skin cancer, or just as fatal, like lung cancer. Many also believe that the color pink insinuates that only women battle breast cancer and that men with breast cancer are left out of the discussion (male breast cancer accounts for around 1% of all breast cancer). There are numerous awareness months, but Breast Cancer Awareness Month is the only one that the general public recognizes and openly supports.
Another controversial aspect concerns the companies that profit from the cancer awareness campaign. The organization Think Before You Pink®
calls these companies "pinkwashers." They define a "pinkwasher" as "a company or organization that claims to care about breast cancer by promoting a pink ribbon product, but at the same time produces, manufactures, and/or sells products that are linked to the disease." Similarly, some companies that claim they donate a portion of proceeds to breast cancer research are vague about how much money is actually being donated and where it's really going. Often, the money doesn't end up in labs for research but instead in the pockets of high-level executives.
While controversy surrounds Breast Cancer Awareness Month, this doesn't mean groups should stop supporting and promoting the cause. According to BreastCancer.org, breast cancer has the second highest fatality rate (after lung cancer) for women in the United States and is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer (after skin cancer). In 2013, nearly three million women in the United States were either being treated or had finished treatment for breast cancer. Breast cancer is a very real threat and shouldn't be ignored.
Luckily for groups like cheerleading teams, there are ways to promote and support Breast Cancer Awareness Month without falling prey to some of the controversial issues. First, a team can easily show support simply by wearing pink
, or incorporating pink accessories
, into its cheer uniforms or practice wear during October. Second, if supporting a cause or raising money for an organization
, a team should know exactly where the donation is going. Before donating anything to any organization, ask how the money will be used and how much actually goes toward the cause and how much is used for "administrative fees."